David Magna, T3c36, 2019. colored acrylic.
David Magna, T3c36, 2019. colored acrylic

“Fish cannot survive in clean water”. Mao's maxim Tsé Tung remembers the turbulent navigation of the Havana Biennale over 30 years, with financial and bureaucratic difficultiesattics, but not enough to wreck it. The theme of 13ª edition, the challenge of the possiblevel synthesizes the struggle that touches the imagination and tries to face the impossible. The event continues in the search for greater correspondences between creation and life practices, or to convergent points. One year late, due to the hurricaneno Irma, the show coincides with the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana and the almost 30th anniversary of the Bienal.

What is the significance of the biggest cultural event on the Island? There are many overlapping mediations in the Havana Biennale since its founding in 1984:  architecture of the place, historical burden, local financial crisis and that of the participating countries, varied ideological frictions, criticism inside and outside Cuba, gallerists and voracious collectors who come to the Island looking for quality art at prices far below the international market .

Compared to previous editions, the 13th Bienal is not among the best. The same is true of the latest biennials in São Paulo, Venice and Documenta in Kassel. In Havana, the curatorship is signed by seven Cuban curators led by the critic and intellectual Nelson Herrera Ysla, in addition to the 21 foreign guests.

The moment is one of reflection, transition, discomfort and changes, with some curators taking up positions in other cultural institutions or simply leaving for a solo career. Biennials make history by undoing previous achievements and meanings. But what singularities can still cause surprises amid the excessive accumulation of biennials, fairs, festivals, residencies? The works distributed throughout Havana, in addition to Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos and Camagüey, are flattened by the international moment.

Manaf Halbouni, Uprooted
Manaf Halbouni, Uprooted, 2014. Car body, books and other objects

At the Bienal headquarters, the performance Collective fabric by Alexia Miranda polarizes the attention and occupies the atrium of Centro Wifredo Lam. With the idea of ​​responding to the present, with possible notions of the future, it alerts to the urgency of social transformations. The collectively braided circles, in various patterns and rhythms, are tools in an attempt to restore moments of peace in violent El Salvador. The gentrification of large cities has reached Dresden, the German city where Manaf Halbouni, a 34-year-old Syrian artist, lives. As his dream of living in a house never materialized, he transforms the car into a residence-studio, “where I solve everything”, exhibited at the Havana Biennale as art.

The country is also on Lais Myrrha's agenda with Chronography of the Cuts, constructions in progress which  develops since 2012. “The work comes when I perceive the tree from real estate speculation as I walked the streets and came across five houses destroyed at once”. They are images of demolitions, abandoned sites, busts, ports, some unidentified”.

The Havana Biennale bets on young artists. In this context is Ruy Cézar Campos, from Ceará who works with different temporalities in three videos: surroundings, Monet's Arrival e Tangled End Points. All members of the series The Network Comes from Mar, a year-long survey between Brazil, Angola and Colombia.  “I try to establish a phenomenological link between the submarine cable infrastructure and their landing platforms. Fortaleza is the most important city in the South Atlantic network with which it is connected, Sangano, in Angola and Barranquila, in Colombia”. Operating between technology and aesthetics, the artist expresses himself between performance, documentary and fiction, with a social political bias.

In Matanzas, the Bienal's new territory, Marilá Dardot asserts the utopia of the dilution of art in everyday life. “My work is a segment of the residency I did in Mexico, in 2015, at the time of the episode of the missing students. She chose newspaper headlines and daily intervened with writings executed with water on a concrete wall. As I wrote them, they faded away.” In Matanzas, she opted for the performance Back, in which he repeatedly writes with water the sentence A la esperanza return on a wall in the street. Marilá's work has changed in recent years, “moving from an optimistic view linked to literature, poetry, fiction and nature, to a more pessimistic view of political facts in Brazil. “There was a political awakening in my generation, as well as in myself.”

Haver, Without Horizon
Haver, Sem Horizonte, 2019. Aluminum sheets

Finally, three Cuban artists with established careers and identifiable poetics, brought together in the show Interior Museums, at the National Museum of Fine Arts.  Kcho (Alexys Leyva Machado), Carlos Garaicoa and Los Carpinteros. Kcho's international flight starts with Regatta, an installation from 1993, made at the age of 23, a year before joining the Reina Sofia Museum, in Madrid, MoMa and the cast of the Barbara Gladstone gallery, in New York. Boat, symbol of the collective imagination of Cubans, appears in gestural drawings, sculptures or installations with objects that are nourished by various poetics.

As the geographer Milton Santos stated, street art, naturally urban and public, carries a strong political burden as it occupies spaces outside the institutionalized fields of art and touches social realities up close. Music sheet, installation by Carlos Garaicoa, developed for ten years, summarizes this thought. The work has the participation of 70 street musicians, from Madrid and Bilbao. It is an orchestra with 35 videos of street musicians performing different pieces. The final score, by Cuban musician Esteban Puela, combines the various sounds and is transmitted to the large digital screen that assumes the direction of the orchestra. Los Carpinteros, in one of their last performances as a duo, puts in alacenas, 2016, criticizing the devastation of the storms that invade the Caribbean. The sounds emitted by hurricanes are recorded, reproduced and placed in old kitchen cabinets that emit the terrifying noise of the phenomenon.

These artists form a logical and consensus core, but it is worth remembering that there are at least two dozen others, equally professionally respected, who gravitate towards international exhibitions.

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